December 24, green: The sadhana of day four is to draw forth the vibration of
joy and harmony that comes from music, art, drama and the dance. Family, relatives
and friends gather for satsang to share and enjoy their artistic gifts. Then
all sit together before Ganesha, Patron of Arts and Guardian of Culture, discussing
Hindu Dharma and making plans to bring more cultural refinements into the
home. More gifts are placed before Pancha Ganapati.
Sadasivanathaswami hosted a group of botany professors and students from the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly for short) a few days ago, as he does almost every year. They visit to learn about what kind of plants the monks are growing nowadays. There was lots of talk about plant and animal mitochondria. On their walkabout the students were stunned to see some of the wild, big-leafed creatures that live in Siva’s sacred garden. They also shared lots of knowledge, visited Iraivan and got wet. Yes, it rained throughout their trek, but no one seemed to notice much. This photo was taken by Paramacharya and Matt Ritter, the leader. Swami started the pano and then Matt Ritter finished it as Swami took his place on the far right.
The university is organized into six colleges offering 64 bachelor’s and 32 master’s degrees. Cal Poly is known for it’s “learn by doing” philosophy that encourages students to combine research theory with experiential practice to solve real-world problems. This practical philosophy, as well as a technical scientific education, enables Cal Poly to rank in the nation’s top colleges for student’s return on investment.
Kodiswara Rao reports:
HH Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami presided at The National Hinduism for Teenagers Conference, 2017, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This one day program was organized by Mr. Aravinthan Periasamy of Artha Nyana Concept Builders and was done with the support of the National Land and Finance Corporative Society (NLFCS), Malaysia, and co-organised by prominent Hindu organizations such as Malaysia Hindu Dharma Mamandram (MDHM), the Hindu Youth Organisation (HYO) and the Malaysia Hindu Sangam. The ex-president of MHS, Datuk Vaithilingam, in his speech, praised HH Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami's persistent educational efforts over the years, with the remark "This is the only Hindu institution that brings its teachings in various multimedia channels, making it very attractive." Satguru received the traditional honoring with huge, beautiful garlands from the heads of the co-organizers.
Satguru's presentation was about Hinduism and achieving spiritual progress. The teaching was precise and simple. The slides and animation components were very catchy. Not to forget Satguru's intermittent injection of Tamil readings excited the crowd. The famous Saint Yogaswami's quote "Bliss, bliss, bliss, here there and everywhere I am" had a spontaneous Tamil translation by Satguru, received applause from the crowd. Satguru's presentation was made up of independent topics thus it benefited the slowly-swelling-crowd, which was estimated at 550 in total. Each major parts were later translated to Tamil by the Kulapati of Saiva Siddhanta Mission, Ramesh Sivanathan, and the crowd was able to hear the message twice. The digital screen made for a grand display, enhancing the learning experience. The organizer was approached by youth leaders for their copy of Satguru's keynote presentation, which is underway.
While Satguru had taken a 3 hour break Mr. Wickneswaren Kaliaperumal took us back in time to the empire of Raja Raja Chola, his glory, accomplishments in South India and how the entire South East Asia up to Vietnam was brought under his Hindu kingdom. A great sense of pride was in the air!
At about 5:30pm, Satguru was again on stage, greeting and blessing each and every one of the conference attendees with his unfailing loving grace. Attendees from all over the Peninsular Malaysia had patiently waited for blessings. We felt the satisfaction and happiness of having attended a great teaching program in the proximity of the Holy Teacher. We recall a MHDM personnel saying, "We would love to have more presentations in the future, an absolute need for us."
Appreciation or gratitude is a sign of spiritual progress, and the joy it brings to our life make it worthy of nurturing. In order to begin to apply this character trait we must first become observant of life around us and aware of its subtle nature. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami had the insight that observation is the first awakening of the soul and that becomes clear the more this teaching is internalized.
Where do we begin? How can one develop a sense of appreciation through observation? We need a new paradigm, or worldview, and we need a new road map. Take yourself out of the equation for just a few minutes. Just like we detached from emotion with the other character traits, we need to practice detachment from "me" and "mine" in order to see just how perfect everything is around us. Regardless of how successful or poor at something you are, the sun still came up today. Even though you handled something stressful last week, all of nature continued on its own—trees battled wind and stood their ground, red ant colonies continued their ongoing wars with black ant colonies, the entire universe expanded at a rate that our minds cannot even begin to conceive. While you were wrapped up in the microcosm of life, the galaxy, the earth, the sun and the moon all continued their marvelous—Siva's dance. His majestic dance goes on, yet most people don't give it a thought. But they can tell you if gas prices rose a little today.
Once we begin to let go of the idea that we alone exist, our behavior can encompass other people's concerns—just as if they were our own. Our identity expands, our sensibilities become more refined. Living this way can certainly make us more vulnerable, but if we are stable in our sadhana and living dharmicly we will have the strength to face all that comes our way.
Becoming aware of our surroundings via affectionate detachment is a good start. Instead of complaining or worrying about the negative aspects of your current situation, of which there are going to be some, shift your perspective and be thankful for everything you have gotten from your karma in this life. This becomes an easy practice when you remember how badly others have it compared to you. Remember how just being ill makes you yearn to just be normal again? You are easily able to switch paradigms by being detached from good health and appreciation becomes quite easy. Without getting sick, detach from your situation and appreciate how things could be more difficult.
Gurudeva sums up this trait by saying, “Appreciation is a beautiful, soulful quality available to everyone in every circumstance—being thankful for life’s little treasures, grateful for the opportunity to begin the day where you are, appreciating the perfect place your karma and God’s grace have brought you to. Appreciation is life-giving. Loving appreciation is a life-changing force just waiting to be used. Express appreciation to community leaders, business associates, spiritual mentors, family members and friends as often as you can. Loving appreciation is a magic formula that works both ways. When we commend another, we are automatically uplifted.”
For the week ahead, when outside the home be observant of the details of your surroundings. When you encounter something exceptional, focus on it and appreciate its uniqueness.
Over the weekend and into next week we are going to think about affection, the third character trait in our Character Building Workbook Series.
affection | əˈfekSH(ə)n |
1 a gentle feeling of fondness or liking
• physical expressions of affection
• a mental state; an emotion.
Synonyms: fondness, love, liking, tenderness, warmth, devotion, endearment, care, caring, attachment, friendship
Expressing affection is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Whether we are too young and lack experience or emotional trauma in our past has blocked our ability or desire to show affection, most of us have to work on our affectionate nature and learn how to express it in a healthy way.
Showing affection does not have to include hugging every person you meet (that might not work well). Instead, try expressing this loving trait with understanding and practicing empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy will naturally lead us into affection and care since we can start to relate to another person, their current problems or their perspective on a given subject. Essentially, when we empathize we open up and begin to trust others. Feeling vulnerable with openness and having trust issues might be a signpost that we need to resolve something in our past.
Try to resolve past issues by writing them down on paper and burning the paper in a safe area using a metal trash can or cement fire pit. Gurudeva's Vasana Daha Tantra is meant for anyone needing to release the sticky negative emotion that lingers in the sub of the subconscious mind.
An endearing or affectionate nature requires balance, and with training affection can be turned on when needed and muted when that is more appropriate. Sometimes the most effective way to show affection is just by smiling. Go ahead and start with family and friends, as that will be the easiest way to determine if you have a strong bond of closeness and understanding with people you were raised with. Spend quality time with family when you don't have to, read body language to assess when someone is needing more affection and express love by offering to support their endeavors.
Observe your state of mind around others. Do you reach actual eye contact during a conversation? Or are you multi-tasking and looking at your phone? Give the person speaking your full attention and give them what's called psychological air. In this simple act you are saying with your body language, "You matter to me." They can relax around you because they know you care about what they are going through and that you will love them, not judge them. Sometimes in a stressful situation that's all people are looking for. Once we feel that we matter to someone else, we can release a great deal of tension and let down barriers of anxiety and finally relax around people we care about—it's not always enough to know affection is already there, we need to express it. *On an admin note, we are currently having trouble with the blog's commenting system and everything should be running smoothly in a few days.
"You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; in just the same way, you learn to love by loving." Anatole France
acceptance | kseptns |
1 the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered:
2 the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group
3 agreement with or belief in an idea, opinion, or explanation
willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation
This week we are going to focus on the Character Workbooks's second trait: Acceptance. We all know what it is to accept something physical like a gift or a handshake. Acceptance gets a little more complex when something unpleasant happens to us. At work we can receive a correction and hopefully accept it. Everyday we get thousands of inputs to our senses and sent into our brain that we more or less just accept. Acceptance is a part of our reality whether we cognize it or not. So what's there to talk about? Today's blog post is going to define how to accept that which we don't prefer.
Detach and Surrender
When we are confronted with difficult experiences we have to keep detachment and surrender in mind or else we are going to attach and hold on to them, thus making our sadhana that much more difficult. There is a letting go that occurs when awareness has a chance to put reason and logic in front of emotion and accept what is happening.
Ever notice how we can easily let small things in life go? Let's say someone spills a drink in the kitchen and your first reaction is to grab a towel and help clean it up, easy right? That experience doesn't really go through your mind all day and night because you were detached. In a sense, you were able to set emotion aside and logically mend the situation based on past experience. We've all spilled something before and after a while we develop a habit of cleaning those situations up. It's the situations in life that we aren't secure in that really cause us grief, and when a solution isn't immediately obvious we can react with emotion--often making the situation worse. Acceptance isn't really possible when ego takes over and demands attention. In a way our frustration and anger are saying, "This shouldn't be happening, at least not to me."
Clinging to ego with emotion is fuel for the fire. Our basic wish to be respected can take any situation out of control, often upsetting the other person--who isn't thinking at all about your self-worth. Miscommunication breeds misunderstanding and a race to see who can dominate takes us out of being two-thirds within and into the toil of our lower nature. Encounter this enough times with the same person and trust is broken down to catastrophic levels.
Let's put things in perspective and change the way we react to hardship: Own it.
Embracing Stress Through Ownership
To detach in the heat of the moment not only takes intellectual understanding and practice, but it requires a new paradigm of ownership for everything that happens to us. If it is our karma getting dealt then so be it. Once we take ownership of a situation we can then take responsibility and find a solution. Until that happens it's the other person's fault and nothing gets resolved.
But what if we surrendered to what is happening and accepted it as our karma? Or even better, what if we could look forward to challenges knowing that it progresses our souls evolution? Breathe. When we breathe deeply we get a chance to center ourselves. Stepping back for a moment and breathing can let your emotion subside just long enough tp bring you up into reason and logic. It's not enough to know the teachings and understand how karma works, we have to practice in-the-moment detachment in order to get better at handling stress. Notice that's not dealing with stress but handling it. Anytime we feel like we have to deal with something we aren't really accepting it fully. Dealing with stress isn't the same as handling it effectively.
The Week Ahead
For this week, when experiencing situations that do not work out as you had hoped, step back, breathe and detach in order to let go of your expectations and accept the actual outcome. Own up to it, be responsible and start producing a solution instead of blaming others.
Comment below with your commitment for accepting what happens this week!
Henry David Thoreau spent two years of his life alone in nature. He left society, built his own shack from lumber and grew his own food. His reflections have been archived in his short book, Walden, and can be accessed by anyone thanks to the internet.
The profundity of his realizations aren't solely that he himself had them but also because of who he was. Thoreau's education level--being a Harvard graduate with a masters--was far beyond what most people imagine a woodsman to be. His renunciation for a short time, sheer handyman ability and spontaneous farming mission is nothing short of mysteriously divine. An avid follower of the Vedas, Thoreau credited Eastern wisdom of the Hindu to be supreme.
Since our word of the week is Abstemious, Thoreau comes to mind as a man who cultivated a massive amount of moderation in his life. He says of his time alone in the woods,
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."
The awe and fascination that nature can deliver is something we all need to observe and experience at some point in our incarnation. Nature can be thought of as the honey produced by the honeycomb of creation. If we are to fully understand why we should even be moderate, then we must explore the deeper caverns that life has to offer.
I suppose these mushrooms that glow in the dark have spurred some sort of awe in myself. Such a fragile creature of life has come from something that has died. In this way we see a full circle and can step away from the myopic day to day of everyday life. As the monastics enter our short retreat from the world, we suggest you also retreat and use the weekend to get away from it all and, as Thoreau would say, "Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations."
Character Building Workbook--Expanding Our Virtues
The monastery published the Character Building Workbook in 2015 as "a tool to help children and adults build, transform and improve their character." The workbook guides seekers toward goals of self-restraint, self-reliance, productivity and to have an overall sense of strength in character. To teach virtue is sometimes regarded as impossible, and whether it can be taught or is remembered is a deep philosophical matter in and of itself. Whatever the truth may be, Eastern sages and wisemen of history such as saint Avayar, Tirumular, Tiruvalluvar, and Western philosophers and Stoics such as Socrates, Plato and Epictetus, have all tried their best to, if at all possible, teach what they regarded as virtue in character and action.
A new series on our Monastery blog will be to take the sixty-four character traits and expand on them, one by one, and see if we can get a better understanding of our magnificent and complex virtuous soul nature. We begin with the first trait: Abstemious.
not self-indulgent, especially when eating and drinking
Synonyms: self-denying, temperate, abstinent, moderate, self-disciplined, restrained, self-restrained
Abstemiousness is a quality that spiritual seekers must have. There is no denying that without some form of restriction yogis, swamis and sadhaka of the Hindu faith would not be able to bring eternal truths down to our normal plane of reality. Whether it be with foods that we all know we shouldn't be eating in excess, or activities that bog us down and make our lives miserable--self-denial and restriction often make us much more effective human beings at the same time making us more receptive to the shakti of a temple deity.
In our search through life we end up seeking some sort of wholeness or some completeness that either rebuilds us after losing our way or we simply just get older and more mature--usually that means the age we stop partying and start to realize we have to do something with our lives and actually make something of ourselves. In other words, we become aware that we are consciousness as we get older and living inside an excessive world starts to just feel bad. Our highest potential and soul nature often wants to avoid indulgent behavior, but that doesn't mean it comes naturally. Abstemious does not mean you become perfect, it means you sacrifice that which is easy for that which is hard. Over time we can expect change but this isn't an overnight experience. In the words of my guru Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, we want progress not perfection.
A Word on Not Succeeding
What happens when your attempt at being abstemious doesn't work? Historically great souls do not avoid failures, pitfalls and distractions, what they do is overcome them over time. Anticipating failure can be a powerful tool to keep you from entering despair and frustration as you take a few steps towards your goal, and a few backwards. No boxer has ever entered a ring expecting a perfect match and to never be hit. He trains for the hit, anticipates challenge and is determined to get back up when it happens, not if it happens. Progress not perfection.
Where Does Abstemious Lead?
Using moderation in an effort to clear the subconscious and uphold a higher moral standard means we are on the path of self-denial and sacrifice. We give up those things that are no longer any use to us and to our goals. This takes constant effort, and to retrain the mind and body will often require being attentive to our weaknesses and keeping our guru informed every step of the way. The waking hours isn't enough either; as we know from Gurudeva's teaching, our sleep and dreams must also be a place of purity if want to completely own up to the duty we have as seekers on the path.
Aristotle's teaching on the subject is truly timeless, "For moral virtue or excellence is closely concerned with pleasure and pain. It is pleasure that moves us to do what is base, and pain that moves us to refrain from what is noble. And therefore, as Plato says, man needs to be so trained from his youth up as to find pleasure and pain in the right objects. This is what sound education means."
The Tirukkural's chapter on virtuous conduct is no less relevant,
"Virtuous conduct leads a man to eminent greatness. Therefore, it should be guarded as more precious than life itself."
We end with the Workbook's assignment for the weeks ahead: For the next two weeks, when tempted to eat or drink too much, restrain that desire by using your willpower, eating and drinking a reasonable amount.
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Our newest publication Path to Siva is explained by Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami as, "
based on Dancing, Living and Merging with Siva, the Master Course Trilogy created by my
Gurudeva, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. Path to Siva presents all of the important teachings of
our Saiva religion, Shuddha Saiva Siddhanta. It is written with youth in mind, but is also ideal for anyone
who wants a condensed version of the Master Course. Note that we have reluctantly adopted the
English-language style of using masculine pronouns, such as He and His, when referring to God and the
Gods, even though they are beyond gender. Other options, for now, are awkward."
Satguru goes on to say from the introduction, "For Youth: The sixty-eight lessons in this book cover the most important things a Saivite Hindu needs to know. Each lesson is short--just one or two pages--but packed with information. Here you can find answers to questions about God Siva, Lord Ganesha, Lord Murugan and the devas--how they can help us in our lives, and how to contact them through temple worship and home puja. You will find clear explanations of karma, dharma and reincarnation, and how to use japa, meditation and affi rmations to make your life better. You will learn the best ways to live in order to achieve your most important goals. The lessons include insights on home life, getting along with others, religious tolerance, vegetarianism and caring for the environment. They cover difficult philosophical areas, like death and dying, reincarnation, sin and evil. Absorbing these short essays will provide a clear understanding of our practices, beliefs and philosophy and give you a deep comprehension of life that few people have. For Teachers: This book is intended for youth age 10 and older. As the teacher, you should be sure your students understand all the words of the lesson text. This will make the meaning much clearer in their minds. Encourage them to ask questions.
"For Parents: This may be the most important study your child undertakes. It is the study of Saivism, the oldest form of Hinduism, and more specifi cally of Saiva Siddhanta. Some parents feel that the study of religion is not important, that their children should focus solely on academic studies. A wiser approach is to include both. The study of Saivite Hinduism as presented here explains many practices that will help your child excel in his or her academic studies. It also creates a more balanced life for children, a happier and less stressful childhood and more mature relationships. Take an interest in your child's study of Path to Siva by reading all the lessons. Consider this catechism the education of your child's soul and conscience, a spiritual training that will prepare him or her to understand our religion, practice it with knowledge and be able to use its wisdom and insights in facing the challenges of life. Encourage your child; help your child with the lessons and you may find answers to questions of your own in the process."
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